Facebook's CEO Risks a Night in U.K. Parliament's Clock Tower

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has been asked -- again -- to appear before British lawmakers, or risk a formal summons. If he refuses that, Parliament could demand Zuckerberg spend the night in the clock tower.

The penalties for holding Parliament in contempt vary. Technically -- though very unlikely -- the House of Commons could call Zuckerberg to appear before them and berate him for his behavior. Zuckerberg may be issued with a fine, although this penalty hasn’t been used since 1666. As a last resort, lawmakers could threaten to send him to the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster -- more commonly known as Big Ben -- a resort not used since 1880.

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Damian Collins, who heads the U.K. government’s committee investigating the role of social media in fake news, wrote to Facebook Tuesday to express dissatisfaction with the evidence recently given by its Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer, and for a second time formally request the CEO give evidence personally, along with answers to 40 questions Facebook failed to answer.

The letter also reminded Zuckerberg that next time he touches down on U.K. soil he will be subject to U.K. laws. Depending on Facebook’s reaction -- and its answers -- Collins and his committee may decide to hold Zuckerberg in contempt of Parliament, one of the few powers left to the group of lawmakers.

Failure to appear has precedence. Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft Foods, did not appear before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in March 2011 to answer questions about the controversial takeover of Cadbury - although other Kraft officials did give evidence.

"Kraft in our view steered close to a contempt of the House," the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee said at the time.

But times have also changed since the U.K. parliament made lawmaker Charles Bradlaugh spend the night of June 23 1880 in the clock tower, after refusing to take the oath of allegiance required of every newly elected minister.

Yet another committee in 2013 decided that if lawmakers tried to punish someone for contempt, they might fall foul of European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates the right to a fair trial “by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

Zuckerberg has until May 11 to confirm his attendance, the government said in a statement accompanying a copy of the letter. Luckily for Zuckerberg, according to the House of Commons archives "the former cellroom is now used for other purposes."

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